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"The United Methodist Church has reached the continental divide."

Georgia Bishops Respond:
E. Robert Matson

March 22, 2004 [1:00 A. M.] In a Statement from Bishop Mike Watson and Bishop Lindsey Davis as follows:

“The Discipline is the connecting covenant within our Church. We support The Discipline and on this issue we believe that The Discipline is clear. We are profoundly disappointed in the recent church trial court decision in the Seattle Area. It is a clear sign of rebellion when a group chooses to flagrantly ignore The Discipline, substituting their own perspective for the corporate wisdom of the General Conference.”

The United Methodist Church has reached the continental divide. Where it goes from here nobody knows. It is truly a watershed moment. It can now be said without fear of contradiction that The United Methodist Church is officially now a church “in rebellion.”

Riotous and tumultuous events are not new to the Body of Christ. Sometimes the worst that happens is inflicted from within. Yet the Church has survived, and will survive still.

On his way to Corinth, probably from Philippi, after a riotous ending to his three year stay in Ephesus, (Acts 20:1) Paul wrote the following in 2 Corinthians 2:3–5:

3And I wrote this very thing to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow over those from whom I ought to have joy, having confidence in you all that my joy is the joy of you all. 4For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you. 5But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent--not to be too severe. [NKJV]

A professor of bible criticism, G. Adolf Deissmann, Berlin, commented something to effect that he would gladly trade all the contents of all polemical journals in all university libraries to know what Paul wrote in that “sorrowful letter,” because apparently it has been lost for all time.

In 2 Corinthians 7:8, Paul says that he did not regret making the Corinthians sorry with his “sorrowful letter,” though he may have regretted the sending of it, but only for a moment. The occasion was an important Church trial.

What Paul had to say about it in 2 Corinthians is clear enough. The Church vindicated itself from wrongdoing by finding one of its members guilty of wrongly challenging Paul’s apostolic credentials and authority, and ultimately, the authority of the whole Body of Christ.

8For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. 9Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter. 12Therefore, although I wrote to you, I did not do it for the sake of him who had done the wrong, nor for the sake of him who suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear to you. 2 Corinthians 7:8-12 [NKJV]

It is hard today to distinguish the United Methodist Church from that Corinthian church. It was a church plagued with factions, and it was dealing with issues of authority and sexual immorality.

What is overwhelmingly sorrowful, is that the great church founded by John Wesley, Thomas Coke, and Francis Asbury looks to have fallen from grace.

Can we ask, where are new singers like Charles Wesley, and Ira Sankey, and Bishop C. C. McCabe, or new luminaries like Matthew Simpson, Bishop Charles Fowler, and Francis Willard; or earth-shakers like the evangelist, E. Stanley Jones?

Instead, Annual Conferences from every corner of the nation are openly challenging the authority of General Conference, and the plain language of our common message, The Discipline.

As Bishops Watson and Davis have now conceded, The United Methodist Church is a church in rebellion. The writer to the Hebrews is very graphic in his portrayal of the consequences of this kind of rebellion. Speaking of the events of forty years in the wilderness, he writes in Hebrews 3:17-18:

17Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? [NKJV]

Unfortunately, rebellion is not new to the Body of Christ, but it is immensely sad all the same.

When the Apostle Paul wrote at length to the Corinthian church, he was writing about matters facing General Conference 2004. What the Apostle Paul required the Corinthian church to do was very painful to them. Ultimately, they were required to expel a member for challenging authority, and to consign another member “to Satan,” for the practice of sexually immorality that was not even tolerated within their own city of Corinth.

To accomplish this, Paul first made a “painful visit” to his church. He then sent a top delegation. Finally he returned and stayed for awhile until order was completely restored. Only after restoring this order did Paul set his sights on new missionary venues. And, while in the midst of this all, he was able to write his masterpiece, the letter to the Romans.

Will General Conference commission a task force of clergy and laity to bring order to The United Methodist Church? Will they have the courage of the Apostle Paul and the members of the Corinthian church to change venues, hold trials, and expel those who do not obey?

Will they terminate faithless elements in the hierarchy, and force into retirement clergy who are heterodox?

If not I fear that Christ will simply spit us out. The churches at Ephesus and Corinth are now both ruins in the dust of history, examples of what can go wrong.

In Christ,

Bob Matson
Bristol, Wisconsin

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